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What Do Films & Series Of 2020 Say About The Mixed Realities Of Indian Women’s Lives?

Posted: November 3, 2020

While TV, cinema and OTT content are often deemed to be ‘far-fetched’ or ‘glazed’ with cinematic fabrication, are the portrayals also a reflection of our own reality?

Is fictional celluloid becoming our reality check?

Various releases of 2020, most of which have been on OTT platforms owing to the pandemic, have looked at different aspects women’s standing in society ranging from sexuality, violence, social freedom and choices.

A rough timeline of patriarchy on-screen

A collection of visual content has somewhat formed a timeline, depicting Indian women and their lives in different eras. While Bulbul looks at the aspect of child marriage in colonial India, Indian Matchmaking exposes the reality of the ‘Indian marriage market’.

While we may claim to have moved forward from child marriages, is there even a question about the misogynistic, regressive nature of Indian matrimony? Don’t the pages of our newspapers feature proof of various families’ search for ‘fair beautiful upper-caste’ women? While we don’t see matrimonial ads about flexibility often, I’m not convinced that it is not on someone’s list of required characteristics for their own daughter-in-law.

Along the same lines, Bandish Bandits exposes other realities of an Indian marriage. Is bride price in a haveli very different from the one-way ‘gift exchange’ we see at weddings today? Women’s choices are never truly their own. The show quite rightly portrays how much of their life women have to give up within a marriage. More than often, women are at a crossroads between societal norms, family and their own longings.

The Malayalam Netflix release Varane Avashyamund quite accurately depicts how society views the romance in the life of an older woman. Shobhana’s character is faced with stringent judgement from her own daughter for simply wanting male company.

Meanwhile, Dolly Kitty Aur Woh Chamakte Sitaare portrays how it is completely acceptable for men of all ages to engage in any form of infatuation they fancy.

While Gunjan Saxena has received massive critique, the movie delivers the much needed message about the importance of a father who is supportive of a woman’s career.

These depictions beg the question, when we term cinema and TV to be fictitious, are we really just running away from our own reality?

Strong characters built over scenes

The set of 2020 releases feature strong characters without painting a rosy picture of women’s lives. Kitty from Dolly Kitty Aur Woh Chamakte Sitaare lives the life of young girl in a modern city. Through the urban struggles of women, Kitty questions society’s moral policing.

From a young innocent girl, Bulbul’s character develops into a stronger personality that is often at odds with the male lead’s expectation of a female. Despite judgement, Neena from Varane Aavashyamund continues to pursue the companionship she longed for.

Small scenes that depict big social realities

While a good portion of releases deliver a clear message, often, small scenes have massive social weight.

A scene from Dolly Kitty Aur Woh Chamakte Sitaare features Dolly having a drink by herself after a dinner party in her own house. The scene spoke volumes. Dolly, who prided herself at being a perfect house wife and mother, was oblivious to her own entrapment. Between dropping her children to the school bus and trying to run a household, her various frustrations were supressed.

Often a parcel in the bandwagon of the family name, women are silenced. A scene from Bulbul depicts Binodini picking her husband’s toy up from a scene of crime and hiding it under her saree. These films along with themes of violence against women portray the dynamics of class and caste.

Another scene from the same movie features the male lead Satya looking at his sister-in-law as a widow, surprised at his own social reality. Another strong shot portrays a beaten up wife at her husband’s funeral in a conundrum about what she should feel.

Dialogues that speak social volumes

While looking through a crowd of these releases, some dialogues leave a deep imprint representative of biases, atrocities and other glum realities. Dolly’s ‘son’ who begins questioning his gender identity looks at his mother while playing with dolls asking “ghar pe hi peetogi na?”. With cases of suicides and deaths from conversion therapy, can we really term this to be fictional?

Bulbul on the other hand, features dialogues such as “chup rehna!” (keep quiet!). Adding on, little Bulbul who is getting ready to be married off to an older man asks her aunt why she was being made to wear toe rings. To this she said “ladkiyon ko vash main laane ke liye” (To bring girls under control). Innocent Bulbul asks her aunt “vash kya hota hai” (What is vash?).

Is celluloid really that far from the realities of our everyday?

While we often critique movies in terms of the dramatization of scenes, is the line between fiction and reality becoming less blurred?

From Dolly being asked to serve tea to everyone in an office where she herself was employed, to Mohini (Bandish Bandits) being asked to abandon music to take up household duties, is there really any fiction to this cinematic content? Aren’t scenes from Bulbul, that feature violence against women, the reality of Indian women today?

If not the same, scenes on and off camera are now separated by only a thin line.

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A student of International Relations at Shiv Nadar University. Enjoys old bands and acrylics.

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